Life Painting: Assignments/Syllabus



Instructor: David Marshall


Assumes student has not worked with oil paint before but has experience drawing.   All assignments take place in studio or surroundings.  No assumption of daylight.  14 week course




37ml tubes of oil colors.  I suggest using Utrecht paint ( because it’s good quality and relatively inexpensive. 

Burnt umber, Raw Umber, Ivory Black, Green Earth Hue, Yellow Ocher, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian, Venetian Red, Transparent Iron Oxide Red,

Cadmium Red Light Hue*, Cadmium Yellow Light Hue*, Naples Yellow light.  Get a 150 ml tube of Utrecht White or Titanium White.


*”Hue” means that it does not contain real cadmium or barium which is a toxic color. 


Palette knife.  Get two of different sizes and shapes.  One should be flat

Brushes.  Bristle Flats or Filberts 2 #1, 3 #2, 3 #4, 3 #6.  Get two or three soft, synthetic #1 or #2 rounds


Medium: W&N Liquin, turpentine

Canvas: You can stretch your own and prime with gesso, buy canvas panels or use primed paper (Utrecht sells a big roll of primed canvas paper that can be taped down to a board).



Assignment 1:


   Value study of simple forms.

    Make a gradated value scale of 10 tones from black to white.

    Use black and white and only a palette knife to paint an arrangement of a white cube, white cone, white sphere on a gray background


    Homework: collect a few bottles and cans and paint them black, white or gray with some flat (non gloss) paint. 


Assignment 2:


   Palette:  Ivory Black, White, Burnt umber, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre,

   Brushes: #6, #4

   Medium: pure turps or mineral spirits – no Liquin


   Make a table that shows the combination of every pair of these colors.  Use white to lighten dark colors so that you can accurately “read” them.  Let white of paper/canvas come through a bit.


   Set up a brown paper bag and one or two of your painted cans/bottles on non colored (preferably gray/gray-brown or white) table/background.  Concentrate seeing value differences and especially warm vs. cool tones.


Homework: Set up and paint a similar arrangement under a different kind of light (e.g. if we used electric light in class, use natural light (from a north facing window) at home)

Make a table that shows the combination of every pair of these colors: White, Black, Ven Red, Ult Blue, Yellow Ochre


Assignment 3:


   Palette: Black, White, Venetian Red, Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre

   Medium: turps/Liquin


   Arrange gray/white/black painted bottles and cans and one or two colored objects (not too strongly colored – keep in mind what is possible with your table) and a white cloth.

   Concentrate on using complementary colors to neutralize, seeing negative shapes,  working figure/ground relationships with warm/cool or complements to simulate tonal relationships that are beyond the range of your colors.


Homework:  Make a table that shows every combination of pairs: white, black, Cad Red, Cad Yellow, Ult Blue


Assignment 4:


   Palette: Black, White, Venetian Red, Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre

   Medium: turps


   Set up a simple monochrome arrangement of a metal can or two on a neutral background.  Use objects that do not have a lot of value contrast.

  Try to set things up so that edges of one object disappear against an object behind.


   Paint this arrangement twice:  once in a high key and once in a low key.   Remember, the focus of this assignment is value keying in a monochromatic arrangement.  Look for different qualities of edges and paint things together even if it crosses the boundary of one object to another.  Maintain the unified tone of the whole arrangement!


Homework:  Do a similar thing under different light.  Add in a white object or a black object and paint the arrangement using wide contrast.  Paint it again using compressed tonal range (dim the light if that helps).


Assignment 5:


Palette: White, Cad Red, Ultramarine Blue, Cad Yellow

 Medium: turps/liquin


Arrange some fruits and patterned cloth and some neutral colored objects.  Be sure to set up some interesting neutral colored objects: some cool and some warm. 




  Add black to above palette and paint some bathroom fixtures.  Sinks/toilets are good.   Include toothbrushes, shaving cream, etc.   Get the feel of porcelain and shiny metal handles.


Assignment 6:


Palette: White, Black, Cad Red, Ultramarine Blue, Cad Yellow, Green Earth


Arrange tin foil, fruit, wax paper, white cloth and some of your bottles/cans.  Be careful not to crumple foil too much.  Spend some time carefully bending it to make an interesting (but natural looking) arrangement. Try placing colored objects partially behind wax paper and so they reflect in foil.  Try using your palette knife to help paint planes of the tin foil.  Be attentive to its edges and highlights.  Contrast this with the softness of edges of cloth and the semi transparency of the wax paper.


Homework:  Make a table that shows combination of all colors. 


Assignment 7:


No restrictions on palette. Try to squeeze out only the colors necessary for your study.


Arrange any objects you want.  Consider the textures of the objects, a glass of water, a chunk of bread, etc. 


Assignment 8:


½ class paints self portrait.  Other ½ paints the self-portraitists.


Homework:  Using a larger mirror start a self portrait that includes a good view of the room you are sitting in.  Use a larger canvas (e.g. 28 x 24) so you can get a fair portion of your body in.


Assignment 9


Change the role you were in for assignment 8


Homework: Continue work on home self portrait.

Begin a small copy of landscape painting (your choice of artist).  You can try to make an exact copy or alter the style if you want.  Stay true to the composition, light and color of the work


Assignment 10 (2 weeks)


Interior space.  Find a hallway, stairwell, bathroom, or classroom or some interesting space.  Try using a gridded viewer and grid your canvas.   Try to find the vanishing points and use a straight-edge to make sure your perpective is correct. This assignment will continue for two sessions so pick an area that is not likely to change.  . Use canvas about 24 x 18



Finish copy of landscape.

Do small landscape painting.  If its too cold out, paint a view out your window.  Don’t work more than 3 hours on it unless it’s a gray day.  Work small (e.g. 14 x 11) and try to finish the painting in one shot.



Assignment 11 (2 weeks)


Figure painting.  You will have two three hour sessions to paint the model.   (Use canvas about 20 x 16)

Use three-point system to place the figure on the canvas but do not do more than a simple drawing.  


Homework:  Make a small copy of figures.  Work from a print of a fresco.


Assignment 12


Figure painting.  You will have one three hour session to paint the model.  (use a smaller canvas  e.g. 15 x 12)